When rich people start buying up land, it’s always disturbing. If and when those same people start telling you that they’re going to use the land they’ve bought to make the world a better place, it’s only natural to feel certifiably creeped out. Unfortunately, this is what’s been happening in northern California, where some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent bigwigs have snatched up a huge amount of real estate and want to build a new city on it from scratch.
The New York Times reports that a mysterious company called Flannery Associates has spent over $800 million hoovering up massive amounts of farm land in the Solano County region. The company has been procuring Bay Area land parcels for close to five years and has now amassed some 52,000 acres (or 22,000 hectares). The land grabs, which stretch from Fairfield to Rio Vista, have understandably worried locals and government officials, who—for years—were kept in the dark about who exactly was buying up this land or what the buyers planned to do with it.
Now, however, it’s finally been revealed what Flannery’s designs for the properties are: the company plans to convert the massive accumulation of terra firma into a brand new city that will be built up from nothing. The vision behind this project has been described as “utopian,” and the concept behind it certainly hews to that description: the Times notes that the backers of the project wish to create “a community with tends of thousands of residents, clean energy, public transportation and dense urban life.”
Flannery Associates has a number of prominent backers. This list of luminaries includes venture capitalist Michael Moritz, the venture capital fund Andreessen Horowitz, software developer and really rich guy Marc Andreessen (who co-founded said fund), Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of Linkedin (and a former Jeffrey Epstein associate), Patrick and John Collison, who are brothers and co-founded Stripe, Nat Friedman and Daniel Gross, a pair of venture capital investors, and Laurene Jobs, a philanthropist (who also happens to be Steve Jobs’ widow). The project is being “spearheaded” by a guy named Jan Sramek, who formerly worked as an investor with Goldman Sachs (not an institution particularly well known for its successes with housing). All these people seem to want to create a community that can serve as a templar for future innovation and urban development. But, of course, they also seem to want to make a lot money off of it, too.
The Times notes that when the project was originally pitched in 2017, Moritz said that the “financial gains [from the city] could be huge” and that the “return could be many times the initial investment” into the property. That figures. If you’re any capitalist worth your salt, you can’t just make a nice thing for people to have; you’re going to want to see a nice fat ROI, as well.
Flannery Associates appears to have recently sent out a push poll to local communities in an effort to gin up support for the project and gather marketing intel. The poll reportedly asked residents questions, like whether they would support a ballot initiative to create “a new city with tens of thousands of new homes, a large solar energy farm, orchards with over a million new trees, and over ten thousand acres of new parks and open space.” SFgate reports that other elements of the proposed project described in the poll included things like:
— “It would be funded entirely by private sector money.”
— “It is being led by a group of architects and planners interested in building livable and sustainable communities, not typical developers.”
— “It is being funded by a group of California firms and wealthy families who are committed to our state’s future.”
For decades, libertarians of the type attached to Flannery have labored under the delusion that private enterprise is better at providing public services and infrastructure than the government. There’s pretty much zero evidence to support this belief, but Bay Area billionaires—many of whom have spent their entire lives benefiting from government subsidies and handouts—still persist in perpetuating it just the same. It certainly seems like this new “city” is yet another attempt to will that fantasy into being and, thus, I can’t help but think that it’s probably going to be a total disaster.
That said, the future is unwritten, so it’s anybody’s guess how this bizarre project will eventually shake out. Obviously, we have no idea if the city will be built. The sheer amount of effort that would have to go into this project (if the Flannery cohort somehow manage to jump through all the necessary legal and political hoops) would be immense. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to be skeptical for the time being.